I had to be at the Ma Danteshwari mandir in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, at any of four given times on two given days. That was to take care of bad weather, punctures, blockades, transport strikes and sheer bad luck. Meeter will have cap, Hindi Outlook magazine and bananas. Password: Namashkar Guruji.
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Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory. But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook , an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents and tribal villagers were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land.
I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi. Whenever my essays are collected into a book what is missing is the atmosphere in the country at the time when the original pieces were published. These essays came at a time when the government had announced Operation Green Hunt, calling on paramilitary forces to go into the jungle and very openly branding all resistance—not just the guerrillas, but really all across the board—as Maoist.
They were picking up people by using laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Special Securities Act, in which thinking an antigovernment thought is a almost a criminal offense. So when I went into the forest, my idea was that nobody really knew what was going on in there. These places were choked off; there was a siege on reporting. But what was real and what was not? I wanted to go in and deepen the story, to make it more human.
But, of course, the idea that there are masses of people taking up arms caused a lot of anxiety among the right wing. Among the people on the left—and India has a very long, complicated, and strong legacy of political and intellectual left-wing activity—many were absolutely outraged for a lot of reasons, mostly to do with old debates about whether organizing indigenous people qualified as Maoism, whether they are truly a revolutionary class, about the ideas of armed action versus entering the mainstream and standing for elections.
You even jokingly consider writing a play for their cultural wing called Gandhi Get Your Gun. Deep inside these forests there was no one to bear witness. You describe how you were personally invited by the Maoists to join them on their march through the forest and to see for yourself what was happening.
As a writer, it was certainly a rare opportunity, though dangerous and even grueling. Tell me about what you discovered, what surprised you.
Perhaps what surprised me most was that I found that almost half of the guerrilla army was made up of women. It was a very interesting story, how the Maoists had first approached the tribal women when they went into these areas more than thirty years ago.
I spoke to the women and they told me about why they had joined—most had witnessed the most horrible crimes against women by either paramilitary or vigilante organizations, while others had joined to escape patriarchal traditional societies.
What was really interesting to me was how much, over many years, Maoism had influenced the indigenous people and indigenous culture had influenced the Maoists. Yes, I have, but only reluctantly. You see, when you live here, inside of all of this, you end up writing to refuse to be humiliated. Everybody is quite capable of telling you what is happening to them in this country.
The dilemma for the writer, I think, is how to spend your life honing your individual voice and then, at times like this, to declare it from the heart of a crowd. That tension, that balance, is something I think about quite often.
This book, like much of your work, can be seen as act of imagination, a vision of other possibilities. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.
In these situations, despair is not an option. Whereas people who are fighting against something in a more or less localized way are far clearer about what they have to do and how they have to do it. Yes, what is most difficult for me is that just as certain and as real as these battles are right now, writing fiction is proportionately uncertain. So, because of the position I am in now, to work on fiction I have to create some sort of steel barriers around it.
Fiction is something that involves so much gentleness, so much tenderness, that it keeps getting crushed under the weight of everything else! Remember Me. Arundhati Roy. Photo: Vikramjit Kakati.
Walking Backwards into the Future
Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory. But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook , an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents and tribal villagers were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land. I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi. Whenever my essays are collected into a book what is missing is the atmosphere in the country at the time when the original pieces were published.
Walking With The Comrades
Deep in the forests, under the pretense of battling Maoist guerillas, the Indian government is waging a vicious total war against its own citizens-a war undocumented by a weak domestic press and fostered by corporations eager to exploit the rare minerals buried in tribal lands. Roy takes readers to the unseen front lines of this ongoing battle, chronicling her months spent living with the rebel guerillas in the forests. In documenting their local struggles, Roy addresses the much larger question of whether global capitalism will tolerate any societies existing outside of its colossal control. Arundhati Roy is the author of The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize and has been translated into more than forty languages. Add to Cart. Also available from:.
Walking with the Comrades: inside India's Maoist insurgency
In order to mitigate such threats, Maoists like Ganapathy engage in armed resistance and, more generally, condone violence when it helps achieve their desired ends. This willingness to employ violence is the source of great tension for Roy. On one hand, Roy deplores the use of force employed by the Maoists for a range of reasons: in the case of Ganapathy, specifically, because of its negative repercussions felt by the very people such efforts are meant to help. On the other hand, she also believes that armed resistance might be the most successful — and possibly, only — option available to the rural tribal adivasi communities that have been disenfranchised as the government makes their land available to mining and other industries. According to Roy, this policy — premised on the belief that privatization would foster economic growth that would benefit the entire population — has in reality only increased the poverty of rural tribal communities living in the forests stretching from West Bengal to Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh. When ownership of these mineral-rich forests is given over to industrial corporations such as Tata, Vedanta, and Sterlite for the removal of bauxite, iron, and other natural resources, the adivasi are affected on a number of levels.
Walking with the Comrades
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